Beliefnet
Mindfulness Matters

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Buddhism is a relatively new term, coined in the 19th century by Western “Orientalists” studying the cultures and traditions. Mu Soeng points out that, “Buddhism is not a unitary phenomenon.” It might be more accurate to say there are many Buddhist traditions that trace their origin back to the Buddha — Siddhartha Gotama — some 2500 years ago. 

The Buddha was not a Buddhist; he was not founding a religion and did not see himself as the leader of a religious movement. What was he doing then? Teaching the dharma to any and all interested parties (including members of any caste and later women). He viewed himself more as a physician offering medicine to cure the sickness that besets us.

In common parlance these two phenomena get mixed up — Buddha and Buddhism. I teach and practice Buddha rather than Buddhism. Buddha, recall, is a metaphor. When Siddhartha did what he did under the Bodhi tree that fateful night when he was 35 years old he became “Buddho” — awake. He had awoken from the delusion of existence and the constant gravity pull of craving to see things as they were. 

To refer to this as enlightenment is to use yet another metaphor and one that carries a different meaning. So he woke up that long night and after an agonizing struggle decided to help others to wake up too. He did so at first by teaching the Four Noble Truths. That’s Buddha and it is also an integral component of any Buddhist tradition.

Buddhism carries many connotations, appealing to some and off-putting to others. Buddha and the Four Noble Truths are, perhaps, universal, applying to everyone regardless of religious persuasion. It’s just that it’s hard to separate the term Buddha from the Asian images of a seated, half-smiling, androgynous figure. 

Certainly we are all situated in a personal context that is situated in a cultural context that is situated in an historical context. The cross-legged Asian Buddha comes with its own contexts. And while we are all shaped by these various contexts we all are born with the same neurological hardware and all succumb to one degree or another to the pull of desire. The case for universality of desire is strong, and this is why we all have the opportunity to awaken to a life that enjoys more freedom from the dictates of desire.

Meditation also seems exotic. Yet what is exotic about closing your eyes (or keeping them open) and paying attention to your breathing? What could be more prosaic? There is nothing mystical about this practice and nothing to bar access to any interested party. 

Indeed, we have all had our moments of Buddha whether we were aware of them or not. To practice mindfulness meditation is to make these moments more frequent and more accessible. We can go there at any moment, especially during the difficult moments of our lives. 

So, we are all Buddha. We all have the potential to awaken (or we are already awakened and just cut off from that realization). Good morning!

According to ecologist Eric Berlow in this 3-minute talk, complex is not necessarily complicated. This sounds to me like the human brain — the most complex thing in the known universe. What that brain does can be complicated — if we are in the grips of habitual thinking or it can be simplicity when we are practicing mindfulness. 

 
He concludes by saying, “For any problem the more you can zoom out and embrace complexity the better chance you have of zooming in on the simple details that matter most.” 
This again sounds like it could be the instructions for mindfulness meditation. When we can embrace the complexity of what our brains are doing — the infinite thoughts, the seemingly random chaotic frenzy of the mind we can find in this complexity the simplicity of breathing — “the simple detail that matters most.”

BS15027.JPGPema Chödrön said, “Since impermanence defies our
attempts to hold onto anything, outer pleasures can never bring lasting joy.
Even when we manage to get short-term gratification, it doesn’t heal our
longing for happiness; it only enhances our shenpa (getting hooked). As
my teacher Dzigar Kongtrul once said, “Trying to find lasting happiness from
relationships or possessions is like drinking salt water to quench your
thirst.”

This quote embodies two metaphors — getting hooked and drinking saltwater. Today I’ll focus on the saltwater. What’s wrong with trying to find lasting happiness from relationships or possessions? This is a point of the Buddha’s teachings that is often misunderstood as being against pleasure. It’s really all about our relationship to pleasure and our expectations around it. 

The operative term here is lasting. The problem is that nothing lasts. Things are constantly changing. Our moods, appetites, and perceptions are constantly changing. Phenomena are constantly changing. The earth revolves around the sun, the weather, and countless events change in every moment. We breathe change in every moment. Life is a process not an outcome. It’s a ceaseless dance. 

And if we relate to it as an outcome rather than a process we are bound to be frustrated. 

The Young Rascals explored this issue in their hit “How can I be sure?”

How can I be sure
In a world that’s constantly changin’?
How can I be sure
Where I stand with you?


Whenever I
Whenever I am away from you
I wanna die
’cause you know I wanna stay with you

How do I know?
Maybe you’re trying to use me
Flying too high can confuse me
Touch me but don’t take me down

Whenever I
Whenever I am away from you
My alibi is tellin’ people I don’t care for you
Maybe I’m just hanging around
With my head up, upside down
It’s a pity
I can’t seem to find someone
Who’s as pretty ‘n’ lovely as you

How can I be sure
I really, really, really, wanna kno-o-ow
I really, really, really, wanna kno-o-ow

How’s the weather?
Weather or not, we’re together
Together we’ll see it much better
I love you, I love you forever
You know where I can be found

How can I be sure
In a world that’s constantly changing?
How can I be sure?

I’ll be sure with you. 

This song embodies the pangs of attachment. It concludes with a glimpse of the dharma, and I take the liberty to paraphrase:

“How can I be sure in a world that’s constantly changing? How can I be sure?” “Well I can’t; I can’t make the impermanent permanent. But what I can do is to find that surety within myself. To connect to the thread of this moment playing through my breath. I can find peace in the process of loving with all its vicissitudes and challenges.” 

In this moment, the suffering lover becomes wise, he finds love in being rather than possessing. This wisdom desalinates the water making it drinkable, quenching a deep thirst. 

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It’s Stress Reduction Sunday. Read my weekly post in the Connecticut Watchdog, This week’s entry Strategies To Deal With Difficult Bosses and Other Problem People

What
Does Mindfulness Have to Offer? Part Two

There
are a variety of scenarios we might encounter with a difficult boss or
co-worker. I recognize there are situations that may be intractable no matter
what you do. In these situations we are confronted with the choice of suffering
with the abuse, quitting, or radically changing our perspective. We’ll leave
this worst-case scenario for last.

Read more …

Read the entire Stress Reduction
Series to date on CT Watchdog >>